Why does my elderly cat have flaky skin?

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Any cats will get dandruff from time to time, and it can?develop for many reasons. Vet Elsie Robertson shares her advice.?

(Q) Why does my elderly cat have flaky skin?

(A) Vet Elsie Robertson says: Many cats will get dandruff from time to time. Dandruff is flaky, dry skin which is shed as small flakes that can then find their way through to the fur. Although dandruff is more visible in cats with dark hair, it can affect all cats regardless of age, sex or breed.

Cats can develop dandruff for many reasons such as poor nutrition (low in essential fatty acids), changes in environmental temperature/humidity, and ectoparasite infections. For example, a condition known as cheyletiellosis is an itchy, scaly skin disease caused by the cheyletiella mite.

This condition is also called 'walking dandruff'. This is because when the infected cat's skin is inspected or brushed, the large white flakes will slowly move because of the mites under the scales.

Although the mites infect the entire body, the dandruff and itching are most obvious on the back and the neck.

Walking dandruff is very infectious, and re-infections are common because the mite's eggs survive in soft furnishings such as carpets and floorboards etc.

Therefore to completely eliminate these mites, treatment of all animals in the household, as well as the environment, will be needed. Regular application of veterinary prescription-strength spotons will help address as well as prevent a number of other skin diseases caused by skin parasites. Cats who do not groom enough may also appear to have 'excess' dandruff.

For example, arthritic cats will have difficulty reaching their lower back while grooming. Likewise, overweight cats can also struggle to reach some parts of their bodies. In such cases the cat will develop very localized areas spotted with dandruff.

On rare occasions dandruff can be a symptom of more serious diseases affecting the kidney, liver, thyroid, or cancer. If the dandruff is associated with other symptoms of these diseases, for example anorexia, weakness and lethargy, then a visit to your vet should be number one priority.